In Depth with Tilly and the Buttons! A Sewing Indie Month Interview

As you may have heard, this month we are celebrating Sewing Indie Month! And as part of the celebration, the indie designers participating are hanging out on each other's blogs, doing tutorials, interviews, and giveaways. And aren't we lucky, today guess who's hanging on right here on my blog? The one-and-only Tilly! 

Yep, Tilly, of Tilly and the Buttons and The Great British Sewing Bee is my guest here today for a little chat. Want to get to know her better? Read on for our interview where you'll learn about her book, the origin of her French-inspired look, and her favorite food (which I gotta be honest Tilly, totally grossed me out!). 

I was lucky enough to get to hang out with Tilly last year during my visit to London, and I can honestly say that she is just as nice and sweet as she appears here on the web. She's delightful and I couldn't be happier for her successes. May there be plenty more! Okay then, on with the interview!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hi Tilly! Welcome to my blog!

Thanks for having me, Christine!

First off, congratulations on the new book! It looks absolutely adorable and is such a clear extension of your existing brand. How did you decide on your color scheme and style of your brand?

Aw thank you! As you know, Christine, it’s very exciting – but also seriously nerve-wracking – to put something that you’ve worked on so intensively out there into the world, so it’s lovely to hear that you like the book.

I wanted my brand and book to look fresh and modern, with graphic prints and primary colours as an unexpected change from the florals and pastels so often associated with the craft scene. Nouvelle Vague cinema of the 1960s is a big influence on my style (I used to live in Paris and have a master’s degree in film history), so it was only natural I looked to these movies for inspiration. In particular, I love the bold use of red, yellow and blue in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris and Made in USA – the style still looks contemporary today. The filmmakers who were part of the French New Wave were young people who took a new approach to cinema which didn’t play by the old rules – I like to think they have something in common with the new wave of makers who are getting into sewing today and doing it their own way.

All of the garments in your book and pattern line are classic mix and match pieces. Do you have a favorite item of clothing to make and wear?

I wanted to design wardrobe staples for the book that can be made again and again in different styles - there are lots of variation ideas outlined in the book - and worn again and again too. Personally I have a particular penchant for making and wearing Breton tops and denim skirts. I can’t get enough of them!

Your style is clearly French-inspired. How did this develop? Have you spent much time in France?

Oui! I lived in Paris in my early twenties, and decided to start dressing like the stereotype of the Brit-living-in-Paris, ie. stripey tops, neck scarves and berets, hahaha!

You talked a great deal on your blog about the development of your book, but for those that haven’t read it, can you give us a recap on how it came to be?

I shared the full story of how I got a book deal on my blog in case it’s helpful to anyone who wants to get published. The short version of the story is that two years ago I was approached by a couple of different publishers who read my blog and liked what they saw, but unfortunately those leads didn’t work out. I began working with a literary agent who encouraged me to write a proposal and got me meetings with eight more publishers, and in the end I went with Quadrille, who are ace. It took a while to come to fruition and there were disappointments along the way, but it all worked out for the best!

Your rise from amateur sewer to UK TV star to full time seamstress/pattern maker/author seems so quick from the outside. Can you tell us a bit about how that path came to be? What were you doing for work before all of this happened?

Does it? From my point of view, I feel like it’s taken aaages – I’ve been working hard on my blog for nearly five years now, and took months to pluck up the courage to quit my job!

I spent nearly a decade working in education and training in the cultural film sector - in my last job I was responsible for the professional training of the UK’s independent cinemas and film festivals. So it was only natural that, when I got into sewing, I was thinking of ways to make the learning process easier for the younger generations who’d never been taught to sew at school. In particular, I felt there was an urgent need to translate the technical jargon of sewing patterns and to demonstrate the steps in photos, which is what I started doing on my blog, and later with my sewing patterns.

At first, sewing was only a hobby for me, but the turning point came a couple of years ago when I was a fellow on a year-long development programme for emerging leaders in the arts world. The process of introspection (I’m going to stop short of saying “finding myself”!) led me to realise that that I’d become more passionate about making things and encouraging other people to make things than I had about working in the film industry.

So I started to take my sewing blog more seriously and, as if by magic, various opportunities presented themselves – from publishers getting in touch to teaching opportunities to getting through the Sewing Bee auditions. I also began sharing my self-drafted sewing patterns as digital downloads and had a great response, so recently took the plunge into printed patterns. I’m a cautious person, so built business up slowly and finally handed in my notice at my job when I got my publishing contract. I’m now my own boss and loving it!

Speaking of the TV show, how has the Great British Sewing Bee affected things for you? Do people come up to you on the street and recognize you?

Not really! When the show was on, I was taking the tube into work every day and would sometimes see people reading an article about the show in the paper and then peering at me over the top of the paper, but it’s quite rare that someone comes up to say hello – Londoners don’t talk to strangers! Unless I’m at an event with crafty people, in which case, yes, I meet lots of people. All very nice, I must say.

Are you still in touch with all the other contestants from the show? And was Patrick as much of a dreamboat in real life?

Yes, I still speak to Stuart every so often, and Lauren has become a good friend. She’s hosting a jolly for my book this Thursday at her gorgeous haberdashery, Guthrie &Ghani. And yes – Patrick is totally gorgeous, although at the time I was too busy sewing to notice!

What’s an average day look like for you these days now that you’re a full-time seamstress?

That’s funny you call me a “full-time seamstress”, because I rarely have time to sew! Every day is different – and exciting! Today I’ve been busy doing press interviews, processing orders from my shop, dealing with business finance stuff, and preparing for Makegood, an event I’m doing at Selfridges at the end of May. I’m trying to cover pretty much all aspects of my business at the moment, but I can feel burn out coming on so I’m planning to hire some help soon – phew!

Can you give us any insight as to what’s next for Tilly & the Buttons? A new pattern perhaps?

At the moment I’m working towards my pop-up shop at Makegood on 30th May to 1st June – come along, everyone! After that I really need to take a holiday, as the last year has been so intense with very few days off. And after that? Well, I have pattern designs on the brain…

Okay, now some rapid fire questions!
Favorite color:
Favorite food: Spaghetti with tomato, chilli and sardines OR crispy duck pancakes, please
Do you have any pets? I wish I were surrounded by kitties, but my man is allergic, boo. Luckily there’s Pinterest, yay!
Favorite French movie? La Jétée
Any chance you’ll come to the states? I hope so! My brother lives in Chicago so I’m over there every so often. And my book is published in the US in October, so who knows?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Thanks again Tilly! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know this kind and hardworking lady! Now go get yourself her book!